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[Page 83]

Yeshivas in Bukovina

As told by Dr. N. M. Gelber (Jerusalem)

Translated by Jerome Silverbush

In Bukovina before 1940 there were four yeshivas that taught higher Talmud, which however were not authorized by the authorities. In Czernowitz in 1923, a municipal yeshiva called the R. Chaim Czernowitzer was opened at the initiative of Daniel Sternfeld. The leadership was in the hands of the city rabbi and there were 60 students. The educational director was Rabbi Kutai. In the years 1930-1934 there were already over 100 students, from 1936-1940 the yeshiva was led by Rabbi Meschulem Rath. After the Russians marched in Alexander Sissie Portugal saw to the continuation of the religious instruction by gathering the melamdim [instructors in religion] and students to secretly continue the instruction in the prayer houses. In this way, hundreds of students were given instruction. Rabbi Derbarmediger took care of collecting the necessary funds.

In 1945 this underground school system was completely liquidated. Rabbi Derbarmediger succeeded with great sacrifice in sending 100 orphan children to Eretz Israel.

The yeshiva Beth Israel be Dameschek Elieser which operated in Wiznitz since 1918 was actually a continuation of the yeshiva that was located in the court of the Wiznitzer Rabbi R. Israel and that was directed by his son R. Mendel.

The new yeshiva with 30 Talmud youths founded by R. Elieser was fully modern. Leader of the yeshiva was the Dajan [judge in a rabbinical court] of the Wiznitzer Kehilla [Jewish community], R. David Schneebalg. In order to spare the students the cost of eating in private housed in 1921 in the yeshiva a boarding school with a mensa [cafeteria] was provided for the students.

The costs of establishing the mensa were covered by the married couple Chaim and Frieda Iwanier of Czernowitz. The number of students grew from year to year in and in1934 reached 150 which called for an expansion of the educational and boarding facilities. The monthly budget ran from 55-80,000 lei. With the aid of the Vienna industrialist Max Delfiner it was possible to enlarge the yeshiva.

The Wiznitzer yeshiva distinguished itself especially through its new pedagogical method. There were five classes in which in addition to an exacting study of the Talmud texts stress was placed on a “correct” interpretation of these texts. In the yeshiva the students were also trained in certain branches of hand work (weaving carpets and other similar work). The yeshiva also possessed a comprehensive library with over 5000 volumes. The educational staff consisted of four distinguished Talmudists.

After the Russians invasion the yeshiva had to be closed by order of the Russian officials. Many of the students escaped to America and Eretz Israel. In Eretz Israel Rabbi Eleasar reopened the yeshiva in Bnei Brak.

In Siret the son of Rabbi Israel, Barauch Hager who was a Rabbi in Siret opened the yeshiva Beth Israel Vtomchim d'orajtha, which in 1938 he reformed on the model of his brother's yeshiva in Wiznitz. He added a boarding school and hand work corses. In 1940 this yeshiva was also closed by the Soviet authorities; some of the students emigrated to Eretz Israel where Rabbi Baruch renewed the yeshiva in Haifa.

Both yeshivas, in Wiznitz and in Siret were supported before the Second World War with large sums from the Professor Haffkine Foundation for Yeshivas, under direction of the famous Jewish historian Prof. D. Markus Wischnitzer who visited the yeshivas several times.

Both Wiznitzer yeshivas were run in the National Palestine-Centric spirit.

In addition to the aforementioned yeshivas there was also a fourth yeshiva in Bukovina in the town of Banila which was led by Rabbi Horowitz in a strict old fashioned orthodox spirit.

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